Parasites hinder reproduction for seabird mothers

Photos credit: Sam Langlois Lopez.

By University of Liverpool

A study by the University of Liverpool and Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has found that parasites reduced female seabirds’ reproductive success by 30%, whilst seeming to have little effect on male seabirds.

A seven year study of European shags on the Isle of May off the East coast of Scotland sought to explore the impact of natural parasites on the reproduction of wild seabirds.

Using specially adapted endoscopes, researchers filmed the inside of the birds’ stomachs in order to count the number of parasitic worms in each bird. They also recorded the number of chicks each adult was able to raise to fledgling.

The study found that male shags have much higher quantities of parasites in their stomachs than the females, yet females saw a 30% reduction on their reproductive ability suggesting that the different sexes face different pressures during the breeding season and may differ in their abilities to cope with parasites.

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